Americans Are Flocking to Alternative Therapies

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Updated: 4/14 5:31 pm

July 22, 2011 -- Most Americans believe that prescription medications are the most effective treatments for many common illnesses, but a Consumer Reports survey of more than 45,000 people finds that three-fourths of us are turning to alternative therapies like yoga and acupuncture.

The new report says 38 million adults make more than 300 million visits per year to acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and other practitioners of alternative and complementary techniques.

"Despite the hoopla over alternative therapies, when we asked respondents how well the therapies they used worked for 12 common health problems, results showed that they were usually deemed far less helpful than prescription medicine for most of the conditions," Consumer Reports Health says in its September issue.

Also, over-the-counter medications in many cases are more popular among consumers than widely used dietary supplements, according to the survey.

Most Popular Alternative Therapies

Chiropractic, deep-tissue massage, and mind-body practices like yoga dominated the list of alternative treatments that respondents said were helpful for back pain, neck pain, and the aches of osteoarthritis.

And though meditation is widely touted as an effective way to relieve anxiety, insomnia, and depression, the survey says prescription antidepressants are used by more people.

Among key findings of the survey:

  • Consumers ranked prescription drugs as most effective for nine of 12 conditions -- allergies, cold and flu, depression, anxiety, digestive problems, headache and migraine, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
  • Of the 46% of respondents who used prescription drugs for osteoarthritis pain, 53% said it helped a lot; 54% of respondents used glucosamine/chondroitin for osteoarthritis symptoms, and 25% said it helped a lot.
  • Of the 27% of respondents who used meditation, 42% said it helped "a lot" with anxiety.
  • 43% of respondents used deep-breathing exercises for anxiety, and 34% found it helped a lot.
  • Chiropractic care was ranked as the most effective treatment for back pain.
  • Pilates, yoga, and deep-tissue massage all rated about the same as prescription medication for back pain.
  • Vitamins and minerals were the most commonly used alternative treatments for general health, with 73% of respondents taking them.
  • A majority of people who said they used alternative therapies had told their doctors about it.

Respondents were online subscribers of Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports recommends that people who decide to try alternative treatments talk to their doctor first to set realistic expectations for improvement.

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